What do attempted London bomber Hussain Osman, child abductor Jeremy Forrest and drug-smuggling gangster Mark Lilley all have in common? Well, aside from having been some of Britain's most-wanted criminals, they were all captured and brought back to face justice in the UK thanks to the European Arrest Warrant, which saw its tenth anniversary earlier this month.
Hussain Osman fled to Italy after the failed 21 July 2005 London bombings, during which he placed an explosive at Shepherd's Bush tube station. Just one week later, he was tracked down and arrested by Italian police on a euro-warrant issued by a British court before being extradited and sent back to face trial in the UK. Meanwhile schoolteacher Jeremy Forrest grabbed the headlines last year when he ran off to France with a 15-year-old pupil. After eight days on the run, he was spotted in Bordeaux by a bar owner who alerted the police back in the UK. In a joint operation between Sussex and local French police, Forrest was arrested and sent back to the UK where he was subsequently convicted for child abduction. Then in August 2013, fugitive drug-trafficker Mark Lilley was arrested in a joint raid by 40 armed Spanish and British police. The drugs baron, who dealt in heroin and cocaine, is now facing a 23-year jail term.
This kind of speedy and efficient justice would have been unthinkable just ten years ago. And it is not just restricted to a few high-profile cases. All across the country, the European Arrest Warrant has been used to track down criminals and obtain justice for victims of crime and their relatives. A few years back in my own county of Cumbria, a young man was extradited from Ireland and jailed for the rape of three 14-year-old girls at a horse-fair in Appleby.
In total, the euro-warrant has led to the speedy deportation of over 4000 foreign criminal suspects from the UK, as well as ensuring hundreds of Britain's most-wanted criminals have been brought back to face trial in the UK. The days when criminals could escape to the so-called Costa del Crime are now well and truly over. Of course, that is not to say that euro-warrant is perfect, which is why Lib Dems including MEP Sarah Ludford are currently leading on its reform to ensure that its use is fair and proportionate. But we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. By working with their European counterparts to track down and arrest criminals on the run, British law enforcement are better able to deliver justice and keep the public safe.
That is why Conservative plans to withdraw from crucial EU crime-fighting measures were rightly blocked by Lib Dems in coalition government. Blinded by their euroscepticism, many Tories want to pull out of EU police cooperation altogether - including the European Arrest Warrant. But Liberal Democrats understand that tackling international crime in the 21st century means working closely with our European neighbours. And senior police chiefs agree with us, having described the euro-warrant as an "essential weapon" in the fight against organised crime. So while we will continue to push for reform, Lib Dems are adamant that we will not allow the Tories to put their euroscepticism ahead of the safety of the British people.
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